View from street of underground hotel construction site at Adeline Place and Great Russell Street.
Windowless hotel will have 187 rooms four and five storeys beneath the ground in a former car park. Photo: Fitzrovia News.

Twenty additional rooms can be crammed into a windowless hotel being built deep underground at Great Russell Street, after a Camden Council planning committee voted in favour of approving the plans, despite concerns about guests struggling to escape in case of a fire.

Developers Central London Investments, part of Criterion Capital, can now increase the approved number of rooms in the subterranean shelter from 166 to 187.

Planning permission was originally granted on appeal in November 2016 to convert a basement car park into a windowless hotel consisting of 166 rooms four and five storeys beneath the streets of Fitzrovia in a former car park.

But the developer during the construction had a change of plan and decided to increase the number of rooms being built from 166 to 207 — without asking for planning permission.

They later submitted a retrospective planning application to regularise the extra rooms but this was refused by Camden’s planning committee in 2022 over concerns about “poor quality visitor accommodation” and insufficient space for back of house services.

The developer then made a second appeal to the planning inspectorate to try to overturn Camden’s decision. At the same time they also submitted another planning application for a compromise scheme asking for 187 rooms — and if this was approved they would drop the appeal action.

This revised scheme attracted 13 objections, with nearby residents concerned about noise from service vehicles, waste collection, and worries about guests with mobility problems being able to escape from deep underground if there was a fire.

The Bloomsbury Residents Action Group said they were concerned there was just one passenger lift for hotel guests whilst the number of rooms has increased and feared the impact of service at street level.

Roger Wilson, speaking on behalf of the Bloomsbury Association, told councillors that residents were concerned about the impact of the increase in rooms would have as there would be more noise nuisance from the comings and goings at all hours of the day and night, and there would be extra waste and delivery vehicles to service the building.

“This is really overdevelopment,” he said.

Wilson also raised concerns about escaping if there was a fire. He said the thought of evacuating hundreds of people at 3am “trying to get out from underground fears me rigid.”

He said the lessons of the Grenfell fire tragedy must be learned.

A planning report said waste will only be put out at collection times and just one delivery vehicle a week was expected “for guest amenities”.

The planning officers said the fire statement was drawn up by fire engineers and will be reviewed by building control.

The applicant said it is signing up to the “highest level of lift protection” with rapid call-outs and pointed out that there is a ramp that can be used to evacuate wheelchair users.

It plans to “respect nearby residential neighbours” and has amended the scheme because of the council’s concerns.

Cllr Lotis Bautista raised a concern about the breaches of planning permission that the developer had made.

Cllr Danny Beales said that the way the developer had gone about building the extra rooms without planning permission was “very frustrating for residents, councillors and the community”, and the developer had created “ill will” by their behaviour.

The planning committee voted by a majority to approve the application.

112A Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NP. Camden Council, Planning Committee: Monday, 30 January 2023.

Additional reporting by Linus Rees.